Books explaining tattoos, piercings, and other body modification

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My tattoo RIGHT after I had it done. Photo by Ashley Vaughn.

Recently I was hanging out with two friends and their (almost) three-year-old when she started pointing at the back of my leg and saying it was dirty. I wasn’t totally sure what she was talking about until he told me that she was talking about the tattoo of my son’s baby footprints that I have on the back of my calf — she thought it was something on my leg, and didn’t make the tattoo connection.

THEN Offbeat Home‘s Cat independently sent me a link to a book explaining tattoos to kids, which is something I’ve never thought of. My husband and I both have tattoos, and our son is just used to them. He likes fake tattoos (he gives them to himself and us with markers, and he also likes the rub-on kind), and is amused by our body decoration, but doesn’t really seem to care either way. I’m sure at some point he’ll ask why some people have tattoos, piercings, and so on, and others don’t, so it’s cool to know these books exist.


Mommy Has A Tattoo

Mommy Has a Tattoo is by Phil Padwe.
Mommy Has a Tattoo is about a boy named James. He’s really freaked out by his tattoo-adorned neighbor… until he finds out that his mom has tattoos, too. SAY WHAT! The book is a great way to remove the stigma that’s (still!) associated with tattoos and body modification in general. After all, if mom has one… it can’t be so scary, right?

Phil also created the Tattoo Coloring Book — every single page is based on real tattoos. This is great on many levels — it encourages creativity (I’m just waiting to hear “Wait, I could get a tattoo of a THAT?!” some day), diversity (in design), and, you know, it’s a coloring book. Coloring books are just the best.

Baby’s First Tattoo: A Memory Book for Modern Parents
A tattoo-themed memory book? Sweet! Baby's First Tattoo is super cute.
As you can most likely glean from the title, Baby’s First Tattoo is a memory book for “modern parents.” The description of the book claims it’s for parents with a home that “looks like it was decorated by Pee-Wee Herman,” and states that all too often, the other “firsts” of a baby’s life (first projectile vomit, first tantrum in a crowded grocery store, etc.) are overlooked in favor of those “other” baby memory books. So while you can definitely record the firsts you want (first tooth, first step), you can also record the other firsts that you might forget. HILARITY.

General body modification

I want to take a minute to make a note: finding kids’ books that talk about body modification in general in a positive way is HARD. I wasn’t searching for anything suitable for little kids (I gave up after a few miserable searches), but was blown away by the lack of information out there for teens who might be interested in piercings. I decided to go the artistic and/or informative route, but if you know of any sources other than these, especially any that might explain piercings to kids under 12, let us know!

Ancient Marks: The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Marking

Photojournalist Chris Rainier spent seven years studying the history of tattoos in thirty different countries -- definitely a must read for anyone interested!
This book is truly a gem — photographer Chris Rainier spent seven years immersed in various cultures to get to the root of tattooing, piercing, and general body modification. I’m not sure I could say it any better than the description already does: “Ancient Marks reveals not only the haunting beauty of these often mystical forms, but also connects them to humanity’s enduring efforts to tell stories, forge identity, and create links to the divine.”

Even if your kids are younger, you could probably spend quite a bit of time together going through the photos, discussing the differences between the people featured, the types of body modification they have, and how this could be similar or different from other things that your kids may see. All the images are black-and-white, which adds a particularly dramatic touch to the presentation — you FEEL like body modification is something a little bit deeper than a lot of people give it credit for.

In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification

In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification
This book, which examines the rise of body modification that took place in the 1990s, came out in 2003 — so it may be a tiny bit dated. Author Victoria Pitts interviewed body modifiers for years — everything from scarification to flesh hanging is featured. Pitts is a sociologist, which gives the book an edge to me — I’m a huge sociology nerd. Since the book is mostly about connections between body modification and gender and sex struggles, it’s right up my, and probably many other’s, alley.

Do you know of any great resources — books or websites — for kids and teens about piercings and other body modifications? Share them in the comments!

Comments on Books explaining tattoos, piercings, and other body modification

  1. I wrote a thesis in college on the art of tattoo in general and what mine had to do with me as a person, specifically. One book in particular was very helpful and was also a really good read. It was called Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. Several years later, my BF at the time tracked down a copy for me for Christmas and I enjoyed it all over again. It’s not for little kids, but for teen girls considering bod modification, it would be an enlightening resource.

  2. These are cool, although a bit young for my kiddos.

    When I went to pick up my son from school one day when he was in 3rd grade, he grabbed my hand, looked up at me, and smiled so wide I knew he must be up to no good. *lol* When I asked him what he was smiling about he said, “Because you’re the prettiest, most colorful mom at my school. And I’m glad!”


    Although I think the idea of such books are cool, nothing beats good ol fashioned open communication with your kids about accepting people, about your tattoos, about being different, etc.


  3. My 2year old daughter learned the word tattoo very early at 16 months. She counts our tattoos (mama-1, daddy-3), and draws them on herself. I also have a few piercings, so she’s learning about that too.

  4. Another academic source is DeMello’s anthropological account of tattooing (Bodies of Inscription).

    It’s been several years since I read it but I found it to be an informative account. Many of the reviews on amazon are very negative but I think that is primarily based on differing expectations about what the book would be (e.g. people wanting a pictorial resource or a history of tattooing).

  5. Typo: “blown away by the lack of information out there for teens who might be interesting piercings.” I’m all for piercings, but having a teenager as your jewellery seems a bit drastic. 😛

    I had more, but the site ate it when it freaked out that I didn’t enter an email.

  6. Hello,
    It’s amazing that we’re living a time when our generation (s) have had plenty of tattoos, piercings and other body art are finally having children and talking about it. I’m 19 weeks pregnant, un-tattooed but an artist and appreciate those who connect to their bodies as a place of self expression. The art teacher in me, wants to offer some ways to explain body art to young children. My 2 cents with a grain of salt, is that when the questions come up to compare your body art to the types of self-expression your child already embraces, such as wearing the same cape everyday or same shoes just because she/he loves those things. And, tattoos are artworks on the body, like the painting or drawing your child just did and tattoos are something to dream about and to ask an artist to create/make “when-you-get-older”do (I quote that because I know, and you know that when body art is actually done, it’s a personal matter and the age could absolutely vary) Also, maybe find examples of authentic tattoos, preview images google image, use real photographs or artwork in museums to show your child. Images a child can understand and intellectually/emotionally absorb. Simple photography, not necessarily a smoking, drinkin’, wearing of leathers sort of photo…So, enjoy the process! 🙂

  7. This post made me curious what books we had in the library consortium I work for and they do have a few books specifically for teens/ older kids including:

    Body piercing and tattoos / Stefan Kiesbye, book editor.
    Detroit : Greenhaven Press, c2009
    It has a sections on people discussing why they got pierced or tattooed, section on health and social issue, and a section about tattoo artist/pierces discussing their work.

    Tattoos in modern society / Janey Levy.
    New York : Rosen Pub., c2009.
    It includes Tattooing’s history and traditions, How tattooing entered the mainstream, Who gets tattoos and why?, Tattoo styles and designs, Some famous tattoo artists

    Body marks : tattooing, piercing, and scarification / Kathlyn Gay and Christine Whittington.
    Brookfield, CT : Millbrook Press, c2002
    Discusses the history of various forms of body marking, current popularity of body piercing and tattoos, how and why these are done, and some things to think about before choosing to be pierced or tattooed.

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